Content-hungry consumers can tolerate a side dish of ads
Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Andrew Lovasz, CEO of Main Path Marketing.
If you've been on the internet at all recently, you've most likely seen one of these:
Consumers who are tired of seeing ads and email sign-up boxes obscuring the content they searched for have downloaded ad blockers, and ad-supported publishers are fighting back with pop-ups that prevent readers from engaging their content while the software is enabled. This more aggressive stonewalling approach is picking up traction as the adoption of ad blocking technology is expected to see major growth over the next several years.
In 2017, 69.8 million Americans will use an ad blocker, a jump of 34.4% over last year. By 2020, Digiday estimates $35 billion worth of ad revenue will be lost per year because internet users skipped ads aimed at them. Surveys have revealed that consumers consider their use of ad blockers not only a convenience but a right. Even Google is considering adding its own ad blocker to its popular Chrome web browser.
This attitude alarms online publishers from Wired to BuzzFeed to The New York Times, and every blogger or publication in between. If publications cannot receive advertising revenue, how can they pay their reporters and printers? After all, people have grown accustomed to getting their news for free, so subscription fees don't bring in much.
Amid this publishing shift, leaders are researching consumer sentiment toward internet ads and consumers' desires for content — research that marketers and business owners can use to make more informed decisions about their online ad choices, content and other digital outreach.
No two ads offend in the same way
"Developing marketing without a good product is snake oil;
developing a product with no marketing is a hobby."
This quote, attributed to business legend Peter Drucker, calls attention to the inextricable relationship between marketing and invention. That both invention and promotion underlie successful business should reassure marketers and enlighten business owners everywhere. The truth is, ads do not always annoy, interrupt, and disrupt. On the contrary, in the best convergence of advertising and audience, the ad becomes helpful information, meeting consumer needs.
A Hubspot survey of 1,055 online browsers found that 68% of consumers don't mind seeing ads as long as the ads aren't annoying. Eighty-three percent agree that not all ads are bad, and another 31% understand that ads help support the websites and free content. The chart below reveals that consumers can be quite amenable to ads. (That only 9% would pay for content and 6% donate to content websites should warn all publishers considering the subscription model.)
Define annoying: ads consumers hate
Sixty-eight percent of consumers don’t mind ads as long as they aren't annoying, per Hubspot, so the marketer's job is to avoid "annoying" at all costs. This raises an important question: what constitutes annoying these days? Research reveals that an unexpected, distracting experience frustrates 73% of internet browsers, with pop-ups, auto-playing videos and telemarketing calls among the most frequent offenders.
Just as a web surfer finds the exact information he or she needs to accomplish something, a newsletter sign-up pop-up obliterates it all, forcing the user to take action to get beyond the pop-up. In fact, in January, Google found consumer rejection of surprising pop-ups so strong, they announced they would be penalizing websites that use them.
Similarly, a web surfer intent on reading a robust answer doesn't want to hear audio pushing an unrelated product. The biggest offender, telemarketing calls during dinner, has incited rage more than any other advertising method, as it interrupts two of our most cherished routines: family time and eating.
Pop-up ad and email sign-up forms, mobile ads and video ads aren't the only poor performers when it comes to user sentiment. Today's consumers hate being inconvenienced in any way. In the consumer-centric, consumer-controlled era, marketers and business owners must keep their audiences happy if they expect to see positive marketing results.
While consumers turn over all kinds of information to Google and Facebook, researchers are learning that they may draw the line at stalking. Seventy-nine percent express frustration at being "retargeted," or followed from a website they may have visited only to be served an ad from that website on their mobile phone. Brands must avoid the perception that they work behind the scenes to follow prospects across the internet.
Smart marketers who keep abreast of consumer preferences also know that targets find much advertising irrelevant, deceptive, slow-to-load and/or poorly made. This finding has prompted the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) to chastise marketers for being rude, intrusive and not entertaining enough. Their effort to hold advertisers and marketers to a higher standard prompted the L.E.A.N ads initiative — L.E.A.N serving as an acronym for Light, Encrypted, Ad-Choice Supported and Non-Invasive. While LEAN provides general guidance, each company's marketing strategy depends on the needs and pain points of their ideal audience.
Tolerated — even welcomed — ads
While marketers using peripheral, unobtrusive ads lose the advantage of forced engagement that pop-up ads provide or the exposure auto-running videos do, they sidestep negative emotions. Ads that are peripheral and easily escaped win a neutral to good rating.
The chart below displays consumer perception of various ads. While "the most neutral experience" sounds "damned with faint praise," really a figure of three is neutral and above that indicates positive, welcoming sentiments from the consumer.
Email wins the most positive rating, possibly because it’s the most easily ignored, but also because users opening their inbox are in the mindset of evaluating and reading email. The email doesn't pop up unexpectedly when the user is pursuing a different goal.
Moving down the chart, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook ads escape a negative perception, most likely because consumers can scroll by them easily. Television commercials, another well-tolerated ad form, can be amusing and entertaining. More, after existing for 60 years, consumers expect them as part of the viewing experience. They also retain the freedom to wander into the kitchen for a snack or surf their tablet if they want. Commercials do not force viewers to change any action or mindset.
Below is an example of an ad that appears in the middle of a blog post. The ad is easy to scroll past, leaving the control with the consumer.
Despite the fact that readers feel they have every right to use ad blockers, they also understand that publications can provide entertaining and enlightening information because of advertising; it's been a model since the first ad went into an early publication in an 18th-century newspaper. Research shows that consumers would prefer that model to continue: access to the information they want with advertisements on the periphery. Some current internet ads meet that criteria.
The benefits of 'helpful content'
Content doesn't interrupt. In fact, when done well, it can be the destination the browser desires. Blog posts often have calls to action in the middle or at the end that offer even more helpful content in exchange for an email address. Repeated outreach via email keeps the buyer moving down the funnel.
Another advantage of blog content is its availability to drive email content. As illustrated above, email is the most appreciated, least intrusive digital outreach, and continues to be a driver of ROI.
There's also off-site content that leads browsers from more trafficked sites like BuzzFeed or The New York Times back to the brand website. Once referred to as the "advertorial," brand content that could be deemed native advertising is also growing in popularity. The only drawback is that marketers have a tough time measuring the content piece's performance because it lives on an outside site. As long as it shares meaningful, helpful information, however, consumers regard it positively.
In the new media landscape, the ubiquity of ad blockers is not something that publishers can avoid. But maybe, if websites and publishers can commit to providing an ad experience that is unobtrusive and helpful for readers, instead of an in-your-face experience, the display ad model could survive yet.
At one point, interruptive ads worked — which is why publishers have been using them — but when they got too invasive, software was created to silence them. With companies like Google starting to realize that intrusive advertising is resulting in increased ad blocker usage, it's possible that we will start seeing invasive ads resulting in penalties to websites and lower search engine results, putting the onus on all digital players to craft more relevant, non-intrusive and even helpful advertising experiences.